July 29, 2009

Equal Treatment for People and the Environment

All too often when approaching environmental issues we expect the solution to revolve around preservation of national parks and cutting back carbon emissions. However, there is another equally pressing environmental matter to attend to: Environmental Justice. This term is a blanket term that covers all kinds of equal treatment for people and the environment.

The EPA defines [Environmental Justice] as:

“the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies”.
This means that all people are able to enjoy the same level of safe access to clean air, water, soil and to be subject to the sight of parks, preserves and eco-friendly buildings. This also means that all people are equally protected against the dumping of hazardous wastes, excess pollution and toxic chemicals in their communities.

Environmental Justice is extremely important in the process to building a more eco-centered world. The tenets of Environmental Justice call for the undoing of many community practices that have allowed dumping toxic waste in impoverished neighborhoods.

These communities—mainly composed of blacks and other minorities—are targeted areas because of low land costs and cheap labor. Unfortunately, the industrial infrastructure enjoying the cheap operation is a source for pollutants and toxic waste.

A shocking 2007 study by the United Church of Christ examined toxic waste and race in the U.S. It found that communities of people of color and low socioeconomic status had a greater number of waste disposal facilities than any other community of people. In fact, it found that neighborhoods of commercial hazardous waste facilities are made up of 56% people of color.

The study ranks the top-ten states with disparities between the percentages of people of color living in host neighborhoods and those living in non-host neighborhoods. They are (including percentages of people of color in host neighborhoods versus non-host areas):
  • Michigan (66% vs. 19%)
  • Nevada (79% vs. 33%)
  • Kentucky (51% vs. 10%)
  • Illinois (68% vs. 31%)
  • Alabama (66% vs. 31%)
  • Tennessee (54% vs. 20%)
  • Washington (53% vs. 20%)
  • Kansas (47% vs. 16%)
  • Arkansas (52% vs. 21%)
  • California (81% vs. 51%)
  • Ultimately, Environmental Justice and the legislation that promotes it seek to amend old patterns of racism and classism to enable all people to share a clean and healthy world. The issue is about quality of human life. The treatment and continuation of environmental injustice makes a strong statement about the value of the lives of people in those communities. By dumping toxic chemicals (often unregulated) and building waste disposal facilities in poor and in communities of people of color, it sends the message that the people living there are not deserving of clean air or water.

    However, there are environmental watchdog organizations looking to reverse the harm caused to these communities and to promote widespread Environmental Justice. Here are just a few great resources for getting involved.
    Center for Diversity & The Environment - http://www.environmentaldiversity.org/

    Corp Watch - http://www.corpwatch.org/

    Environmental Working Group - http://www.ewg.org/
    You can even check your community's Environmental Justice score!

    What is your community’s score? Where you shocked or proud?


    This post was written by Laura Scroggs who is a feminist scholar living in the mid-west. She is currently an active community volunteer and volunteer blogger with the Literacy 'n' Poverty Project. Please leave your comments or email info@makesocialchangeareality.com with your questions.

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